Perhaps I’m not one?

There have been discussions on blogs and ALT members mailing list recently about what makes a learning technologist. For the record, my job title is Service Owner: Academic Technology, which means I’m a manager of an elearning team in IT Services that runs the platforms/tools as well as supports people using them in effective ways.

I’m feeling a bit outside the frame of the discussion about learning technologies, because:

  • I work in IT services, because that’s the way we’re organised here, and I often hear learning technologists refer to IT Services as “them”
  • I’m not an academic or a teacher and I’m certainly not a “pedagogue”

If that’s what characterises learning technologists then perhaps I’m not one?

What I *am* interested in is:

  • the place of digital technology in the student experience
  • solutions development and architectures that support the workflows of academics and students
  • the way that organisational cultures and individuals’ practices change
  • what the web means to the creation and sharing of knowledge

I’d like to think that in my 15 years+ in the field I’ve developed some expertise in some of that. I don’t have a templated answer to any situation, I have an accumulated pot of knowledge and approaches that I apply (with varying success!!).

I see the occasional moan on the ALT members list about the senior managers who write their strategies and spend their money and don’t understand how the world is changing. That’s not my experience at all. I hear plenty of interest and passion from our senior team. We’ve just had endorsement of the Technology Enhanced Learning Strategy that we’ve developed, through the TEL Steering group that I chair, and there was plenty of recognition of the importance of TEL.

I think what some people are experiencing is a shift in the point of engagement and the type of support offered by a central learning technologist team, or a departmental elearning lead. Here’s what I mean, with some examples of the types of activity in each zone (this is absolutely not comprehensive):


With a very broad brush, I’d characterise it broadly as follows. From the mid 90s to the mid 00s, there was an emphasis on the bottom left hand corner and it favoured the skillset and mindset of the crafters. There were some great crafters who worked at Becta 15 years ago who were a good fit to the needs then, and have since left educational technology to do other crafting things. The approaches of working with individual academics also became richer, filling up the left hand column. People with great interpersonal skills and curiosity came to the fore. In parallel over the last 15 years or so we’ve had the maturing integration of platforms so that there are some learning technologists dedicated to the IT side of things but they are still driven by the values of teaching and learning. And there are managers like me who, hopefully, know enough about the tools and the practices to try to ensure that university level provision is good.

Incidentally, parts of my team also support research, and I anticipate a growth in types of research technologists. Maybe it is following a similar pattern.

I don’t think it’s just that the content development is being absorbed by academics, I think there’s more to it. In fact I suggest that in addition to the classic learning technologist, and the TEL-skilled academic, there are already several other flavours of learning technologist in my own university:

  • the staff developers and educational developers who are comfortable with learning technologies
  • the learning technologist systems analyst/architect
  • the student experience manager, also comfortable with technology: it’s not their job but it is part of their skillset and mindset
  • the orchestrator who might be a group/departmental administrator or a programme lead, they are at ease with technologies and know how to use them when
  • the content developer (they might be in the library, student skills, webteam) – they have learning technologist skills but wouldn’t call themselves that
  • the researcher/technologist who has half a foot in implementation and half in research – they pay more attention to evidence and theory than their IT colleagues, even when they’re doing similar things – skillset might be similar but the mindset is different

I’m sure there are more. Do I want to draw a clear line between them and the classic learning technologist? No, why sweat it? It’s great that so many people are engaged with the effective use of technology in education.

And another thing: I’m not an academic and I don’t teach. I consider myself to be a para-academic. (Like a paralegal, or a paramedic 😉 ). I have a particular skillset which has a place in universities. I’ve lost count of the number of sessions I’ve been in at elearning conferences over the year where the presenter asks “how many people in the room actually teach?”. Cue a few hands raised and the majority looking down at their feet, embarrassed, as if the 5/10/15 years experience in education counts for nowt. Universities are multi-professional places and learning technologists, in all their flavours, have a rightful place at the table. People like me shouldn’t have to pretend to be something we’re not.

Hopefully this post gives a voice to other learning technologists who feel like they don’t fit the standard description.


17 thoughts on “Perhaps I’m not one?

  1. A thoughtful and thought provoking post as always Amber and one that certainly strikes a chord with me. I’ve seen this discussion in passing but I haven’t really engaged with it because I’m pretty sure I’m not one either! I’m also a bit uncomfortable with discussions that label people and draw distinctions between then. I’m not sure I see myself as an anything really, if pushed, I would probably describe myself as a contract researcher working in education technology. Depending on which project or contract I’m working on, I might be one thing of another.

    “People like me shouldn’t have to pretend to be something we’re not.”
    This a thousand times over! I think it’s much harder to get recognition if you don’t fit neatly into one category or another. That’s certainly something I’ve experienced many times over the years.

    • Another great post Amber – you really should blog more!

      This really fits in well with the theme of my chapter for the #edtechbook – I’m discussing the range/variation of roles considered under the umbrella term of ‘Learning Technologist’, as well as the various parts of the institution that they might sit. So you’re placement within IT services offers another unique blend to the role, and I’d love to see any ‘Learning Technologist’ argue with either of you two ladies about the nature of these types of roles – you’re both more knowledgeable than most LTs I’ve ever met.

      For years I’ve struggled to define what I do when speaking with ‘Muggles’ – you know, those that don’t posses our magical abilities 🙂 I’ve jokingly referred to Chandler Bing in that nobody, even his closest group of friends, understand what his job is. My friends too, have no idea when it comes to what I do. As Rachel Green suggests of Chandler, I could be a ‘transponster’.

      I think the field has evolved partly naturally and partly a result of the economy. Those people who got eLearning going have sat in various departments, and the teams are thus reflected. Further, new roles (or at least titles) have emerged because established teams identify a gap that needs plugging e.g. specific roles for OER or ePortfolios, or even to provide an LT administration type role (lower paid and may be called junior or apprentice) or academic perspectives like mine – Lecturer (Learning Technology). For me the role is primarily about teaching and learning, but for you that might be about systems architecture or research. And that’s ok! I do think it’s become an umbrella term now.

      One of the quotes I’ve included in my chapter seems pertinent though:

      “Given that structural location may significantly determine the influences a field is both exposed to and identified with (and thus what becomes valued), such structural decisions may have profound effects on the nature of the field in certain settings” (Czerniewicz, 2008 p.176).

      Would be interesting to look more closely at how teams operate within different contexts.

  2. Great post Amber, and I really like your table. Like you, Lorna and everyone else I don’t really fit naturally into one box. Working with like minded, square-peg/round hole individuals has probably the most motivating part of my career to date. In the chapter David Walker and I are writing we are really exploring the changing roles based very much on our own experiences. However, in the interests of vanylicts and pinpact (Thomas, 2011) using digital pedagogue was just too good an opportunity to miss 🙂

  3. “People like me shouldn’t have to pretend to be something we’re not” – never!

    There was a time it was socially unacceptable to be a geek or nerd, yet now these are sought after qualities that some actively look for, for both personal and professional reasons. The same goes for Learning Technologists – we are often the last to be included in the project, or the last link in the chain before something ‘goes live’, and we’re often the ones who have to pick up everyone else’s slack in order to get it done, get it done on time, and/or get it done right!

    With a full and inclusive mentality across management and institution committees this can be reduced to so we can help, engage, liaise, collaborate, manage, design, programme, and general pick up the slack?

    I’ve always said it … the more LTs you have (in either a single department, faculty, or even across the whole institution) the more work there will be for them and the busier they will be. In nearly 8 years as an LT I have never been without something to do (sometimes of my own creating, but hey!) and always needed more time and more hands to do what else I could see needed doing!

    This hasn’t changed.


  4. Yes, I absolutely agree. Now we just have to convince the majority of academics that there’s more to HE teaching and learning than individualistic, ad hocist, hand crafting. And we have to do that in a way that preserves the value of their individuality and inventiveness. That’s the big challenge.

  5. Yep, definitely. Learning Technologists comes in various shapes and forms. They bring a skills-set that they grow and develop; they help bridging the gap between academics and different worlds.

  6. Pingback: Perhaps I'm not one? | elearning stuff | Scoop...

  7. Pingback: Perhaps I'm not one? | E-Learning-Inclusivo (Ma...

  8. Pingback: Perhaps I'm not one? | D&IM (Document &...

  9. Thoughtful blog posting Amber. You illustrate clearly how professional categorisation has been successfully disrupted . this is healthy but unsettling as you illustrate.

    BTW you have taught me a thing or two over the years – sorry to have to say this but that makes you a teacher!


  10. Pingback: A Response to ‘What is a Learning Technologist?’ | TEL Sonya

  11. Thanks Amber for reminding me of a similar lightbulb moment in my own development, which I blogged here:
    Although humans love to categorise and sort the world into boxes to help feel that we have some control and can order our world, this sort of discussion brings to light just how far the approach fails when we apply it to real people in real life contexts. People who collaborate together on a human rather than a role-determined level are more able to appreciate to particular human skillset and mindset that each brings to the enterprise. That may sound idealistic but we have to bear in mind that we each have multiple identities and roles in life, we can then escape the little boxes in order to connect at a more human level. Here’s a little tune you may know:

  12. Pingback: Great TEL Manager Role available! | Amber at Warwick: academic technology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s